Are Windows 10's live tiles dead?

Windows 8 Start screen
Windows 8 Start screen (Image credit: Microsoft)

I've been thinking a little bit about some of the features available in Windows 10, especially now that 19H1 has started refocusing more on the things that are working and less on the things that aren't. For example, we're fully expecting My People to go away at some point in 2019, as well as see Microsoft backtrack on its initial idea of bundling both Cortana and Search instead opting to build out each experience separately.

One such feature that I'd argue isn't working too well on Windows 10 is the live tile feature in the Start menu. Initially introduced with Windows Phone 7, live tiles were designed to keep you up to date with "at a glance" information like recent texts, photos, comments, and tweets. Those live tiles were then carried over to full Windows with Windows 8, and while the live tile interface worked fine there, most people were unhappy with how Microsoft had forced a touch-first interface onto a platform in use primarily by mice and keyboards.

So with Windows 10, Microsoft found a happy middle ground where users had full access to the desktop while still being able to access live tiles from the Start menu if they so please. Except, as it turns out, most people don't need access to those live tiles on desktop. I've seen internal documentation from Microsoft that suggests people aren't really opening the Start menu to look at or customize live tiles. Users prefer pinning everything to the taskbar.

So what gives?

Not much has changed with live tiles

Let's take a look at how live tiles have improved since they first debuted in 2010. Outside of a few customization options and a larger tile size, live tiles haven't really changed. The only noteworthy addition to live tiles from a developer standpoint has been the ability to jump straight into something that was being shown on a live tile. But even then, very few apps have taken advantage of this. It's not like there isn't anything Microsoft could to improve live tiles, it has just chosen not to. It's sort of been abandoned.

I've seen many internal presentations and documents that detail interesting ideas for live tiles, but they were never released or put into full-time development. The reason for this is likely because Microsoft knows developers won't take advantage of these features. It's hard enough to get developers to take advantage of live tiles in their current form. Twitter can't even do it, failing to supply even the basics of a live tile.

It's looking like Windows Lite doesn't even have live tiles.

For a feature like this to be successful, it really depends on support from developers. Most Win32 programs on the web don't support live tiles at all, and there are many apps in the Microsoft Store that don't support them either, or if they do, they don't do it well. Of course, there are plenty of apps in the Microsoft Store that do support live tiles well, but not everyone is doing it.

The reason I bring this up is because I've been speaking to quite a few internal sources about Windows Lite, and it's looking like Windows Lite doesn't even have live tiles. It appears Microsoft is entirely omitting this feature in favor of the more common app launcher with static icons as seen on iOS, Android, and Chrome OS. If Windows Lite launches without live tiles, where is the incentive for developers to continue supporting such a feature on desktop?

Are live tiles doomed to fail?

Many would argue that live tiles don't work on desktop because the live tiles aren't exactly "glanceable." They are hidden in the Start menu, something that you have to manually click on before you can see them. The reason live tiles worked so well on phones is because the Start screen was the home screen. It wasn't an extra menu you had to tap into; it was just there. Most users using desktop today pin everything to the taskbar, because that's the quickest way to access your apps.

Like most of Microsoft's more ambitious ideas, for live tiles to be successful, they really need a mobile platform to thrive. So, unfortunately, I think the glory days of live tiles are over. While I don't think we'll see them gone on desktop anytime soon, I wouldn't be surprised if live tiles never get updated with new features again. If Windows Lite launches without them, as I have been told, I think that will be the beginning of the end.

Over to you ...

What do you think? Is Microsoft done with live tiles, or do you think it has a plan for them? Let us know in the comments.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter and Threads